Chelsea began their Under-21 Premier League International Cup campaign with a 4-2 win over Liverpool at Aldershot on Friday night.
The Group A opener – Celtic and Benfica complete the four-team set – swung back and forth for long spells with John Swift giving the Blues an early lead only for a Jerome Sinclair brace to put Liverpool in the deserved ascendancy at the interval.
Kasey Palmer’s quick-fire hat-trick ensured victory for Chelsea however as he opened his account for the season in some style and they could have scored even more as they ultimately ran away with the contest.
Make sure to check out Dan Davies’ match gallery HERE.
Under-21 coach Adi Viveash handed over the reins to Andy Myers for this season’s International Cup and the former left-back had to call upon the services of James Russell in goal. The former academy product, now playing for Boreham Wood, still serves as a part-time coach at academy level and with Mitchell Beeney injured and both Brad Collins and Jamal Blackman travelling with the first time due to Thibaut Courtois’ knee surgery, an emergency measure was required.
Ola Aina came in for a start at centre-back whilst Mukhtar Ali made just a second appearance at this level, and with Charly Musonda captaining the side out wide there was also a chance to impress in attack for Alex Kiwomya.
Liverpool’s side was markedly different from the meeting between the two sides at St Helens a month ago with several of their brighter prospects since having departed on loan, and both teams included one or two players who will be hoping to join them in going out now that the Football League emergency window has opened. Swift is perhaps chief amongst them from a Chelsea point of view and he wasted little time in making his mark, opening the scoring with six minutes on the clock and in some style too, as he whipped an unstoppable twenty-yard strike beyond the reach of Andy Firth and in via the crossbar.
It was the highlight of a very bright start by the hosts and Kiwomya, who will be hoping to add to his brief stay at Barnsley last season with another sojourn into the professional game, should really have doubled the lead not long afterwards but, for all of Kevin Wright’s enterprise down the left, he couldn’t get a good connection on what was a terrific cross.
Liverpool’s slightly less experienced outfit began to grow in confidence, not least because they were able to lean on the older players in the team. Alex O’Hanlon and Jack Dunn became increasingly dangerous in attacking areas and whilst Chelsea defended doggedly to prevent Russell from having to make a save, the equaliser came from a defensive mistake. Aina let a long ball bounce over his head and that allowed Sinclair to pounce, lashing into the bottom corner to extend a fine personal record against the Blues at this level.
Russell was kept busy as the half wore on, swatting away Randall’s teasing cross-shot and having to deal with an increased workload from set pieces, but there was little he could do about Liverpool’s second as Sinclair furthered his claims not just for a high-quality loan of his own, but perhaps more involvement in Brendan Rodgers’ first team. It was a quality team goal too as Dunn escaped the attentions of Palmer before standing a ball up to the overlapping O’Hanlon, and he in turn placed a volleyed cross onto Sinclair’s head to make it 2-1.
Chelsea had faded after their bright opening but Swift remained involved throughout the opening forty-five minutes and tried to match Sinclair’s tally with a chipped effort close to half time, missing by a matter of inches. Dunn, meanwhile, was forced into a premature exit with a problematic hamstring; Matty Virtue replacing him in stoppage time.
Palmer then took over, scoring a first hat-trick in Chelsea colours with all three strikes arriving in the space of fifteen second-half minutes. The first was undoubtedly the finest as he collected a pass from Musonda before turning, skinning Whelan and drilling low past Firth into the far corner to get his team back on level terms.
He followed that with a rare headed goal to establish the hosts’ second lead of the evening, afforded acres of space in the box for Swift to pick him out with a flighted cross. And, before anyone at the EBB Stadium had a chance to collect their thoughts, his free kick from wide on the left took a wicked deflection off the arm of Pedro Chirivella and spun its way into the bottom corner to complete an unlikely treble.
Liverpool were a shadow of their latter first-half selves, not helped by Dunn’s absence, and rarely threatened to mount another comeback. Substitute Virtue crashed an effort off the frame of the goal and it was really all they could do to stave off a heavier defeat. Palmer, now playing with supreme confidence, handed over to Musonda only for Firth to intervene again, and Tammy Abraham might have scored within ten second of his arrival with an improvised backheel.
He and Swift could have added further gloss at the death but it was to remain Palmer’s night. The Under-18s are in action tomorrow morning away to Leicester before a handful of players on show here return to action next Wednesday at Cobham as the defence of the UEFA Youth League begins at home to Maccabi Tel-Aviv.
Chelsea: Russell, Dabo, Aina, Conroy, Wright, Ali, Mitchell, Swift, Kiwomya (Abraham 67), Palmer (Quintero 82), Musonda (c)
Subs not Used: J.Dasilva, Baxter, Colley, Muheim, Tomori
Goals: Swift ‘6. Palmer ’51, ’63, ’65
Liverpool: Firth, Randall, Whelan, Cleary, Brewitt, Chirivella (Marsh 82), Madger, Brannagan (c), Sinclair, O’Hanlon, Dunn (Virtue 44)
Subs not Used: Wheeler, Polgar
Goals: Sinclair ’18, ‘35